Friday 20 June 2014

Shirts of Death

VOLTE FACE-ISIMOOOOoooo! No..not a shrieking-spine-tingling pure euphoric Latin American commentator's goal celebration, but the sheer unbelievably fascinating speed with which the world has all of a sudden announced Iran's return in from the geo-political cold.

The US are actually intending on partnering with Iran to counter ISIS's surge in Iraq. ISIS who you ask? Ahh..haven't you heard the world has a new foe? With a catchy iteration..ISIS is no less a creation of the West's failings than any of those groups that have caused such havoc before.

Oh the irony..not even fiction's greatest writers can outdo the splendour of political drama. Iran's role in the Middle East is due for a this space as we dig deeper into understanding what this means for the GCC and Western relations with the Middle East in general.

ISIS is not only the newest created foe the West has unleashed on a suspecting yet still unduly suffering Middle East, it is also the most tech-savvy to date..making horrifying use of social media to literally terrorise the population of Iraq and its flabbergasted flailing Maliki-led "security forces" into psychological surrender. Relentless Tweets and video-posted real-life horrors (executions and intimidation) ironically play out the torrid use of Western tools intended to bring people closer together.

Much has been made of the (apparent) sudden thaw in US-Iranian relations, not to mention the UK's announcement of re-opening its Embassy in Tehran. Truth is - as any observer witnessing the discomfort of Saudi and UAE officials in recent months - it has been in the works for some time. Rouhani has simply provided the correct conduit to a plan that was likely in place pre-Ahmadinejad and itching to be put into place. As cynical as it may sound, ISIS's sudden appearance on the global-terror platform provides the perfect cover for this new relationship to flourish.

With half the world engrossed in a truly thrilling much has been written of the demise of Spain with their now-derided tiki-caca, how lovely the Argentinian fan-base look in those tight blue-shirts, and the refreshing absence of any serious trouble across Brazil during the festivities, that it would do little to add anything of note here. However, whilst watching some of the recent footage from the no man's land of western Iraq, a macabre and effectually disillusioning image stuck in the soldiers were being marched off to their shallow graves for all the world to see, a number of international football shirts were immediately noticeable, an awful juxtaposition of world-renowned footballing stars' names on the back of these "Shirts of Death" - enough to make anyone sat comfortable believing the worst thing to bare presently is anxious anticipation of a magically thin England route through to the second round, almost choke on the uneasy realisation of indeed how fortunate they are relative to ills other less fortunate parts of the world continue to inflict upon themselves.

The Middle East and the Levant in particular have never been areas of calm and guiding lights of co-civilisation. The blessing of the raw natural beauty of the entire region, stretching from the eastern Mediterranean to the greens of Iraq's ancient river-banks, have been cursed with a perverse and animal-like hatred between a people unable to share and find the common ground to bind them together. Since the 2003 "liberation" of Iraq, a plethora of planning mistakes centre around the Sunni-Shia divide have been made and noted ceaselessly, what we are now witnessing are the first signs of those seeds that were not correctly planted, grotesquely growing into a mutated and destructive force. Will the the modern allied military powers act with concerted effort and now discover a sudden road to lasting peace? Obama's track-record does bode well for any future intervention, executive powers enacted or not. Congress is not the obstacle here, Saudi/GCC suspicions of the approaching Iranian long-dormant superpower-in-the-waiting will be the biggest roadblock to any swift and mercilessly smooth cessation of atrocities.

It would take an entire chapter to wade through the permutations of conclusive scenarios over the next crucial week of action in the Persian Gulf. Suffice to say we have entered a new paradigm - simply look at how the spike in Crude Oil (up from $100/brl to almost $115/brl in 72 hours) has come as a direct result of the US aircraft carrier (handily named USS G W Bush) entering once viewed treacherous waters through the Straits of Hormuz to potentially assist(!) Iran with an intervention to protect Baghdad and not the now-usefully forgotten aggressive act of deterring Tehran's nuclear programme. Thought relationships swivelled quickly in those frivolous Latin soap operas? - woaah..nothing ever compares to real-life drama.

Saudi, Turkey and other Sunni forces in the surrounding areas will be in overdrive, bending the ear of any lobbyist, major "encumbered" corporation and all other influential conduits to the US in a desperate bid to make sense of the incredibly rapid seismic shift in Tehran communications. If a properly effective co-ordinated response can be pieced together, we really may be onto a powerfully transformative period across the entire Middle East. No one is suggesting it will be a quick fix, yet bringing Iran in from the cold and having their commercially-minded and large (mainly secular) population an integrated part of the economic growth of the entire region will provide ample opportunity for those that currently have no hope of a bright future at least glimpse a dim light at the end of the long-tunnel of discussion. Much has been on hold since the revolution of 1979, comfortable allegiances are now going to have to adapt and alter. The GCC and others will either fall into line and reap the benefits of this greater co-operation, as indeed Dubai has done for many years now, or fight against an ultimately overpowering tide of change. Let's all hope it is the former.

One thing strikes cleanly through this geo-political mess: the people of Iraq, Syria and those surrounding nations have suffered unduly for the political and religious whims of others. They must be protected and given some semblance of a normal existence if this ugly and vicious self-fulfilling circle of hatred and retribution is to miraculously fan itself out. We have been in the midst of a 35yr war, from the outbreak of the internally sanctioned Lebanese civil war in 1977 to the belligerence witnessed now on a daily basis across the new arc of hatred. It was disgusting and immoral in 1977, it is only sadly now more noticeably evil given the medium of modern technology being used in the most hideous manner. Enough is enough, Not in the name of religion and not in the name of revenge.

In the modern land of Mesopotamia, the ancient phrase "if setting out on a journey of revenge, dig two graves" has mutated into generation-shaping images of hapless men digging their own shallow graves wearing national football shirts with other more blessed men's names emblazoned on their backs. Children caught up in this disgusting and human morality questioning mess should be watching the real football heroes striding into glorious goal nets, not their fathers walking to their inglorious deaths on the internet.

Tuesday 17 June 2014


No..not a shrieking-spine-tingling pure euphoric Latin American commentator's goal celebration, but the sheer unbelievably fascinating speed with which the world has all of a sudden announced Iran's return in from the geo-political cold.

The US are actually intending on partnering with Iran to counter ISIS's surge in Iraq. ISIS who you ask? Ahh..haven't you heard the world has a new foe? With a catchy iteration..ISIS is no less a creation of the West's failings than any of those groups that have caused such havoc before.

Oh the irony..not even fiction's greatest writers can outdo the splendour of political drama. Iran's role in the Middle East is due for a this space as we dig deeper into understanding what this means for the GCC and Western relations with the Middle East in general.

To be continued...

Thursday 5 June 2014


Capitalism and trade according to Toni Montana – “first jou gotta get the money, then jou get the power, then jou get the..”..ahhh..can’t publish that line here but rest assured it is something man has always strived to attain..and always shall struggle to!

Our iconic American dream anti-hero-Montana expressed a bewilderingly efficient entrepreneurial flair and killer instinct for spotting a gap in the market and filling it quite gladly with Yeyo (aka Cocaine - for those that maybe have never watched the likely most-quoted movie of all time), generating copious amounts of wealth for himself and those around him…it appears there are a great number of equally successful pharmaceutically inclined Europe-based entrepreneurs around to generate a buzz that is superlatively controversial, to say the least, in its lifting of national GDP. Latest EU regulations (now ESA rules require a number of illegal trading activities including narcotics, cigarettes and prostitution - where both sides willingly comply - to be included in EU member states’ calculations to provide a “clearer” picture of actual GDP and economic activity) have potentially inflated some countries’ GDP by as much as 5% (Sweden, Finland) and assisted other indebted nations (Italy) to more easily reach the imposed 3% Debt-to-GDP limit..increasing Italy’s GDP by 1.3% thanks to the omnipresent Mafia and incredibly fun-looking Bunga Bunga parties, makes keeping to the debt limit slightly easier for them this year..bene! Special thanks no doubt should be extended to supreme GDP contributor Berlusconi..even out of power, the jet-black-dyed-fox is still influencing the country’s political machinations..possibly single-handedly!

The UK would also handsomely benefit from the ESA change, with a potential 3%-4% bump in GDP, when all those nightclubs and celebrity restaurants’ true nocturnal activity behind the toilet doors are taken into account – not for nothing is there an urban myth that 95% of UK notes in circulation have traces of illegal substances. Does all of this really come as a surprise though? Most people living in such cities have a good understanding of what happens around them, how it happens and that is an accepted facet of society. After all, governments over time have decreed what actually constitutes this black market activity and the ingredients of such limitations to what one can get away with…errm..meant to say trade….vary from nation to man’s illegal cannabis distribution ring in Frankfurt is another’s “coffee shop” in Amsterdam (legal recordable revenue in the Netherlands). Interesting, as most illicit activity eventually works its way to supercar dealerships and restaurants anyway..doesnt it? The UK’s VAT and other indirect taxation methods should normally slurp up this excess. Judging by the blacked out vehicles that swiftly careen through the streets of the worlds greatest “tax-friendly” cities, bodyguards in tow, the thriving market often described as black but more colourful than many would give credit for, strengthens and underpins a great number of economic factors. Historical quirks and past venal corporate lobbying resulted in plenty of the current “illegal” landscape..some argue the only reason the ubiquitous coffee drinker is not risking a lengthy prison sentence is down to some powerful lobbying from self-interested growers in the late 1800s, whereas the hemp plant suffered ignominious defeat on the back of trumped up medical charges. Wherever you stand on the issue, the subjective nature of one man’s legal drug or activity leads to the very existence of the so called grey-side of the market and the reason there is room for Scarfacenomics.

We must also consider other nations that do not so honestly divulge the extent of industries that have forever existed and significantly contributed to not only the enjoyment of many its population but also the efficacy and size of its output. If we look at where most global corporate profit is generated it is normally from the addictive substances - drugs, alcohol, coffee and even these days an unhealthy addiction to the internet and the prevailing and time-shifting sin of vanity - people Tweet because they want others to see what they are doing (a reason people have made the DailyMail the world’s most visited online tabloid). It becomes compulsive, addictive and overall generally destructive. Is it really that terrible though that such large swathes of the Western population take joy out of something as simple as Rihanna’s barely-there dress..?..could think of worse things to be looking at. The truth remains that Scarfacenomics may be closer to the reality of doing business than we comfortably admit. Witness the furore surrounding the alleged corrupt practices of the future World Cup to be held (for now) in Qatar in 2022. Are we simply gawking at the unsavoury practice of “facilitation payments” considered the norm in the Middle East with envious bafflement that others did not think (or afford) to do the same, or genuinely incensed that such activity actually takes place – even though most are fully aware this is how large swathes of business gets done. These activities belie a greater problem..but just because we do not always see them does not mean they do not prolifically exist.

The general level of GDP attributed to such illicit activity is astounding on the surface but exceptionally difficult to truly calculate. Sarface’s protagonist would snort-for-joy, proud of the recognition and credit afforded to his business-building skills. He, like others before him, although rooted in reality rather than larger-than-life fictional characters, have long contributed to such global trade and value. We would likely have some of the world’s largest economies in some unsuspected destinations - lest you be a cognisant travelling businessman covering certain markets that is..especially such lovely and warm places of culture as the GCC (a little sarcasm), alongside certain Asian cities that spring to mind, where the level of extra-curricular activity is so densely concentrated in a few blocks that they may well constitute mini-superpower states on their own! The Middle East in particular would witness incredible skews in certain economic output were they to first even acknowledge the existence of some of their greatest illicit activities – spent any decent amount of time in a Dubai hotel lobby?..then you know what we’re talking about here..the level of hypocrisy that exists there boggles the mind.

One man’s crime is another man’s pay-check. Crime doesn’t pay, or at least that’s what teachers, parents and police forces around the world instil into most children from a very young age, repeating the mantra that there is no substitute for hard-work and honest, moral effort resulting in just rewards. Anyone taking a simple look around the streets of London, Monaco, Hong Kong and other hot-beds of welcoming banking systems and tax-havens will possibly hesitate mid sentence thrilled by the sounds of a passing super-car, engine revving at full scream (complete with requisite as-if-dealer-option-supplied peroxide blonde passenger with vacuous stare..also screaming), almost stumbling at the surprise and shock of realising the driver is barely old enough to legally drink (oh the irony) and wonder where exactly the black market punishment for such crimes is hitting hardest. We all know most people do work hard and live within the confines of the law. Fascination and near obsession with the criminal aspect of humanity though, with the glorification of such activity through books, movies and now slickly produced TV-series’, maintains an almost endearing affair and slightly sycophantic admiration for those on, seemingly, the wrong side of the law.

Rationalise the above with a report this week that Generation Z (16-25 year olds) is potentially the saviour of our economic malaise through clean living. Toni Montana would be appalled! Apparently less alcohol is being consumed and a significant fall in recreational drug-use is being witnessed. This may well be simply because there is not enough disposal income amongst the newer generation for frivolous spending and so many are quite concerned (obsessed) with how they look, bringing a certain narcissistic, yet medically welcome, result. Lack of job security and a greater negative stigma from viral social media also factors at play here.

Institutionalised corruption and preferentially legalised activity indubitably contribute significantly to the greater world economy. The other side of the legal divide, is simply a truth of the way we do business and what much of the population enjoy. Even great global tech firms like Apple and the late Steve Jobs display traits akin to Toni Montana’s insatiable appetite for success. Both would not have been able to realise the pinnacle of the American Dream without a little “creative thinking”. Apple’s latest announcements this week are timely reminders of the difficulty in maintaining a position atop a cut-throat competitive pyramid. If it wasn’t for the rather oblique working conditions that used to exist at Apple’s outsourced factory in China, it may not have been able to generate the massive mountain of cash that sits behind it and prohibits many would-be competitors from ever summoning the courage to take it on. Would proud US law-makers ever admit to such practices being tolerated..of course not. 

In a world of Scarfacenomics where mountains of cash are replaced with mountains of other substances, the Montana tag-line that echoes and prevails as a perfectly consistent reminder of the oblique nature of capitalist profit before morality…“I always tell the truth, even when I lie.”

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Scarfacenomics - Jou got the stuff? (coming soon!)

Some other pertinent factors have prevented the full piece from being completed in time this week. Please excuse the lack of consistency on this occasion and look-out for Toni Montana's take on global macroeconomics - how one nation's crime is another's GDP bonanza!